I confess I don’t own a lot of movie books. I often find them too specialized. Mark Cousins wrote The Story of Film, a brave attempt to talk about all the movies made from 1895 to now, not just from Hollywood and the UK, but also from Europe, Asia and Africa.
The question is, can one book explain the entire history of cinema? And can Cousins write that book?
The answer:The Story of Film by Mark Cousins is an incredible read. £19 is a lot of money, but it’s not wasted on this heavy book.
The big problem with the book is that Cousins (film critic, producer and the second host of Moviedrome) can be a bit full of himself, but make no mistake, this man knows a lot about film.
He was asked to write a book in one volume about the history of cinema. The book is approximately 500 pages long and it’s well-written and highly informative.
Cousins doesn’t just focus on Western cinema, but also mentions Indian and African cinema. Of course he can’t write about everybody in just 500 pages, so he only wrote about those directors that had an effect on other directors.
While some favourites of yours may not have made it (and indeed he doesn’t mention B Cinema that much), this book has told me more about cinema than I’ve read in dozens of other works about film.
Cousins explained his choice as follows: if A makes a new form of cinema and other directors (B-H) follow him, Cousins’ll briefly mention B,C,D,E,F,G and H after talking about A.
If, however, director E was directly influenced by the work of A and took those ideas a step further, Cousins will mainly talk about A and E.
He also divided his book into the three most important periods of film:
A. Silent Cinema
B. Sound Cinema (1928-1990)
C. Digital Cinema (1990-now)
Why? Because there have been lots of changes in cinema’s history, but these three are the most important changes of them all. First they learned how to make still move, then sound was added and from the nineties onwards digital effects were good enough to add something to the cinema we already knew and liked.
Within those three chapters Cousins skips flawlessly from continent to continent, making you feel inadequate about the small size of your video library.
As an added plus, the book is full with beautiful stills and photographs (more than 300) and they’re a joy to look at.
But not all is well: the book’s editor was sloppy and left quite a few spelling mistakes in the book. Plus, Cousins occasionally has it wrong (the first time is on page 8 when he says DVD stands for Digital Video Disk – when in fact the V stands for Versatile).
But if you’d like to correct the man on his knowledge of directors, you’ll have a much tougher time.
When nearing and reaching the era of digital cinema Cousins does tend to become a bit more personal in his choices. Then again, it’s always hard to write history and his choice of who’s becoming the first director genius is as good as mine.
Is this a perfect book? No, but such a book will never be written. Is this a book that does an astonishing job in reviewing the most influential and important cinema of the first 110 years? Definitely.
Let those who think they can do better, try it. We’ll see who’ll have the last laugh.
The Story of Film
suggested price: £25 (hardcover), £10 (softcover)
The book has also been published in the US (by Thunder’s Mouth Press), but you’ll have to get used to the horrible cover. A Spanish translation has also been made.